Sharp drop in Oranga Tamariki child abuse reports during coronavirus lockdown

Most of the reports of concern made during the lockdown came from the police.
Most of the reports of concern made during the lockdown came from the police. Photo credit: File.

By Sarah Robson of RNZ

There was a sharp drop in the number of child abuse reports made to Oranga Tamariki over the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Preliminary figures from the Ministry of Children show that in the six weeks after the country went into alert level 4, 6529 reports of concern were made.

During the same period in 2019, there were 9190 reports of concern - meaning there was an overall drop of almost 30 percent.

But in non-school holiday weeks, the drop was just over 40 percent, down from 1800 reports of concern each week to just over 1000.

Oranga Tamariki deputy chief executive Alison McDonald said with schools and early learning centres closed, a drop was expected.

"When schools are closed we usually see that level of decrease, as children aren't being seen by teachers, but we've never obviously had it for this length of time before," she said.

Most of the reports of concern made during the lockdown came from the police.

McDonald said Oranga Tamariki was concerned about an increase in family violence over the lockdown and plans were put in place.

"As we were going into lockdown, we did a huge amount of work with families, re-checking all of our safety plans, going around checking that people had the support that they needed, giving them access to mobile devices when they didn't.

"So, we were quite confident we would be able to manage things as well as could be managed over the lockdown period."

McDonald said the police would notify Oranga Tamariki straight away if there was a family harm incident and the two agencies would be involved in dealing with it.

With schools open again under alert level 2, Oranga Tamariki is expecting reports of concern to rise to pre-lockdown levels, however, McDonald said so far they had not yet seen an uptick in numbers.

"We haven't seen that trend upward yet, but then people are just adjusting to going back to school, children are just going back into the classroom, so it's early days."

McDonald said Oranga Tamariki did rely heavily on the reports from schools and early learning centres, but she said it was reassuring others did continue to contact the ministry over the lockdown if they did have concerns about a child.